"You have ruined my life"
Some years ago one of my kids had his phone removed temporarily – I can’t even remember what the issue was – and he said to me, “You have ruined my life”. With all the sincerity of a teenager!
His life wasn’t ruined but it indicates the depth of feeling children can have for technology that they want to have it in their hands and have control over that.
You might feel a bit overwhelmed by social media, cyber bullying, gambling and cyber porn, and you don’t know how to look after kids in your care – whether they’re your own children or your grandchildren, nieces, nephews, neighbours or the kids you teach.
Biblical principles are eternal
Yet Jason Illian says in My Space, My Kids that,“the fundamental biblical principles for raising a child aren’t circumstantial – they are eternal. They don’t change with new technologies, or theories or new families. Scripture clearly calls us to love, discipline, teach, guide, protect, nurture and develop our children”.
It doesn’t matter that there are new things happening around us. We still have a job to do and Scripture teaches us how to do that. So, we love our kids. We discipline them and we provide them with boundaries because their little sinful natures will always run off course if left unchecked.
We teach them about the love of God and the ways of godly living. We guide them in holiness and righteous living to protect them from the lures of the evil one. We nurture them and provide them with a safe, secure environment in which to grow and develop. And then we help mature them into the young people and adults God wants them to be. That’s our job.
Technology is not evil. The possibilities are endless for good – but so are the temptations for evil, and the pitfalls. It’s the human application that determines the outcome.
How do we find the balance?
So, how do we find this balance between jumping in and allowing our children to soak up every technological experience (20 per cent of 1-year-olds have their own iPad!) or withdrawing completely?
1 Corinthians 10 says, “’I have the right to do anything’… but not everything is beneficial. ‘I have the right to do anything’, but not everything is constructive”.
There has to be some balance. As parents we need to provide boundaries for our children with food, sleep, play and conversation to help them self-regulate. It’s the same with technology: we need to provide boundaries now so they can learn to self-regulate as adults.
Here are some questions I often ask myself:
1. Do I regularly consider the impact that technology is having on my family? Because it changes. Do I have boundaries on the technology in my family – the use of it? Am I able to say “No” to my children and bear the consequences?
2. Is there a balance in my home between technological use and real, live, in-person communication?
3. Am I thinking about managing technology in the context of a whole parenting philosophy, or am I just stumbling along hoping it’ll all work out in the end?
Here are three ways we can consider balance and boundaries with technology:
If we’re thinking about tech use in our family, the content is important to evaluate. If a new movie’s out and you’re not sure know if it’s suitable, look it up. Does the content of the app, the device, the movie, the game, whatever it is, honour God? Does it reflect our family’s values? Is it too scary, violent, overtly immoral – are we consuming too much content that is opposed to our own values?
If we ignore the ratings of these things completely, we communicate to our kids that we don’t care about it. Debriefing with them about movies, TV shows, advertising and the news are great conversations to have.
Then there’s created content. When you put something on Facebook, that’s created content. When you like somebody’s post, that’s created content. When you liked that funny video, that communicates to people that you align yourself with that. And that might be fine. But one of the things we need to teach our children is how to interact online in a way that reflects our own values. And getting to that point is hard work.
How is technology use in the family affecting our relationships? Are they being strengthened or weakened? Is our own technology use impacting the relationships of the people around us? Are we too addicted to our own phones to talk to the people in the room with us? We have to keep self-reflecting because it’s too easy to get sucked into it.
We often hear of people being quite okay with young children connecting with strangers through games or social media, and the relationships that come out of that. Are we okay with that? Are they ready for that? Have they already found navigating online relationships a source of anxiety? What parts of the internet are appropriate for different ages and stages?
Part of our job is to know the answers to these questions. To think them through and make decisions that are appropriate for our family so our kids will be prepared to be people of integrity in an anonymous online world.
We all know how much time we can spend playing with technology – the biggest users of the gameCandy Crush are middle-aged women! But children aged eight to 18 years consume 7 hours and 38 minutes of media a day. That’s a conservative figure. If your kids aren’t consuming that much, you know someone else’s kids are consuming an awful lot more.
When there is the prospect of introducing another piece of technology, consider whether this new device, game, movie, app is going to take more time away from face-to-face relationships and other responsibilities in the house. Can we say “No” to our children because of the time factor? Can we put a boundary on it? A bit of time on this device, then household jobs, homework, spending time with the rest of the family… we have to create a balance.
As Christian parents we want to teach our kids about character, online and offline. To put others before themselves. To show respect, compassion, kindness and patience. To have self-control and humility. To be wise with making good choices. To use their time well. To be content and not to conform to the materialism and restlessness of the world around them. And to be sure of their identity – their personal identity, family identity and spiritual identity.
How do we do this in the context or technology?
Be wiseBe aware of the public and permanent nature of the online world – that is a lesson that even grown-ups don’t get. We need to teach our kids about the consequences of online mistakes. And they’ll make them, but hopefully only little ones with little consequences.
How to stay safe online. How to manage strangers. Using kind speech, not getting caught up in an online argument. How to manage their own tech time so they can make wise decisions and balance their online and offline worlds. We want them to leave home as wise young adults, so we need to step them through that process.
ModelThis is where we have to be the good parent and set a good example. It’s so hard to do! The first thing we model is the culture of the home. There’s no point trying to tell our kids to put their phones away at the table if we’re on our phone! We have to model a culture – a home culture. That might look a little bit different to you from the person next to you, but that’s your online culture and you have to cultivate that.
Authentic and ethicalWe want to cultivate in our kids an authentic online person that’s the same as their offline person. We need to teach our children to be empathetic online, particularly as they get older and they’re using social media. And being a digital Christian online. A peacemaker. A blessing to others. Ethical in our media use – not downloading uncopyrighted movies. Affirming people – publicly and privately. Someone who stands up for issues of biblical social justice, maybe a user of faith apps, like a Bible download or prayer points.
We protect our children from running onto the road, from falling into the swimming pool and from the online accidents they can stumble into. We don’t want them to click on that flashing light that says, “Click here for a great prize”, because we know that’s not a great prize!
Other people want to be malicious and we need to intentionally intervene to protect our kids, because they can’t protect themselves. We need ground rules: bedtime curfews, no going to bed with your iPad, public docking, password protection.
Your child should not be able to grab your phone and start playing on it. It should be protected with a passlock. And when they’re old enough to have devices, they should be protected so their friends can’t grab their phone and post as them on a social media site and ruin their lives. It is just so important and so simple to do.
Set all your children’s social media sites to private so they won’t be inundated with messages from strangers. Stick to the basics: boundaries, regular conversations, checking texts occasionally – and tell them you’re going to do that ahead of time. Don’t spring it on them!
Respect age restrictions on social media apps. A lot of children on social media apps are too young to be there, have lied about their age – and their parents know they’ve lied about their age! That’s not integrity. Be a different parent. Use content blockers, filters, accountability software. If this is something you don’t have in your home yet and you should, get it.
Lastly, give kids a reason why you’re making some of the rules that you’re making. Explain about screen-free areas of the house if you set up that boundary: bedrooms are for sleeping, for example – devices don’t help you sleep, therefore that’s why we have that boundary.
Trust your kids, and trust God
We need to learn to trust our children and their character as they grow. As we see signs of wisdom and godly character, we need to keep trusting them. There’ll be little slip-ups, we’ve got to deal with those, but we want them to know that we’re trusting them in that growth, and we want them to come to us with concerns so we can talk about them.
One day they will grow up and leave home and my filters won’t work at their house, so we need to trust that they’re going to grow up and prepare them for that – gradually increasing freedoms and boundaries as they go.
We know God never changes and his word is life and light. It illuminates the world we live in, no matter the century, or the marvellous inventions that currently epitomise man’s greatest achievements.
We know that at the heart of our modern-day issues with technology are the same old self-centred issues of the heart the Teacher in Ecclesiastes explored when he declared, “There is nothing new under the sun”. The answer to teach of the problems posed by technology is to build a life with strong foundations by taking God’s word and putting it into practice.
James 1:5 says, “If any of you lacks wisdom you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you”. If all this is overwhelming, we have a person to go to who has promised to give us wisdom and help us navigate this world.
Simone Boswell is co-author of the book Cyber Parenting: Raising Your Kids in an Online World. This is an edited version of a talk she gave at the MU Sydney Conference in February.